The uncertain game

An Inter Milan team which in London had looked feeble and ineffectual came suddenly to life in San Siro and Tottenham Hotspur, admittedly without the talismanic Gareth Bale, scraped through, on away goal. By Brian Glanville.

Yet again, one is reminded of the words of William Goldman, an outstandingly successful film script writer: “In Hollywood, nobody knows anything.” Which might surely be said about football. In recent days, we have had Arsenal, humiliated at home in the European Champions League by Bayern, going to Munich even without their essential young playmaker, Jack Wilshere, winning 2-0, and almost saving the tie, Bayern squeezing through only on away goals. Just a couple of days later, the Gunners’ historic rivals, Tottenham Hotspur, having annihilated Internazionale 3-0 at White Hart Lane, went to a largely deserted San Siro, in the secondary Europa Cup where they might have been expected to glide through.

Not a bit of it. An Inter team which in London had looked feeble and ineffectual came suddenly to life and Spurs, admittedly without the talismanic Gareth Bale, scraped through, though beaten 4-1, with a single goal in extra time by Togo’s Emmanuel Adebayor. It was not merely in attack without the dynamic and prolific Bale that Tottenham faltered but both midfield and defence were chaotic.

The previous weekend, in England itself, there was an astonishing FA Cup result at Everton. David Moyes’ team had long been making light of a lack of financial resources. Marouane Fellaini, its six foot four Belgian international attacking midfielder, was till recently a menace in the air and skilful on the ground. England international Leighton Baines is one of the foremost and most dangerous overlapping left backs in the Premiership, South Africa’s Steven Pienaar a force on the left flank in front of Baines.

Wigan Athletic, by contrast, faced possible relegation and were licking their wounds after a crushing home defeat by the other Liverpudlian club, Liverpool. But an early goal by their marauding left back Maynor Figueroa of Honduras rocked Everton off balance. A couple of other goals would follow, one a scorching shot from Callum McMana once, to rub salt in the wound, a promising Everton youngster.

And how did London’s Millwall, marooned well down the so called Championship, hold Blackburn Rovers, who had knocked Arsenal sensationally out of the FA Cup at the Emirates, draw 0-0 with Blackburn at The New Den then against all odds, go up to Lancashire and beat them 1-0 on their own ground, with a header by centre back Danny Shittu.

It has been suggested that in the cases of Spurs in Milan and Arsenal in Munich, complacency may have played a part in the downfall of the beaten teams, Spurs and Bayern. But this is no real excuse and in the case of Bayern many such excessive confidence should have been quickly dispelled by the very early goal which the Gunners scored when Theo Walcott crosses to Olivier Giroud. The Gunners would score again late in the game through another Frenchman, centre back Laurent Koscielny, but it was a little too late to save the tie. Bayern, 3-1 winners in an almost contemptuous canter at the Emirates, got through by the margin of a goal.

True Bayern were without the dynamic and propulsive midfield force of Bastian Schweinsteiger, but most of their other stars, such as Arjen Robben, Frank Ribery and Thomas Muller were on show. And it is surely arguable that the creative Wilshere is more valuable to the Gunners with his inspired passing than is Schweinsteiger to Bayern.

And while we are on the subject of surprise, what of the remarkable Chelsea victory albeit on penalties in the Champions League final versus Bayern on their own ground which followed an equally astounding victory with ten men, John Terry having been sent off, the bulwark of the Londoners defence, at Nou Camp against mighty Barcelona?

At San Siro, it was role reversal to the ultimate degree. Quite why Inter should have been so poor and uncompetitive in the first leg at White Hart Lane, quite why Spurs should have been so flaccid at San Siro, it would take the shrewdest of psychologists to say.

Bar, of course, the fact that the Spurs players, so soon to be disabused, took the return in Milan as a formality. Yet certain prominent Inter players, largely invisible at Tottenham, came dazzlingly to life at San Siro. None more so than that eternal maverick Antonio Cassano, brought up in the slums of Bari in South East Italy, moving expensively from club to club, eternal rebel falling out with one manager after another, left out of Italy’s dull and disappointing 2010 World Cup squad in South Africa when the coach, Marcello Lippi, wouldn’t take what he regarded as the risk of picking Cassano. Who once when in training international camp at Roma’s Trigoria ground, sneaked a girlfriend in one night under the surrounding fence. But he dazzles on his day and dazzled Spurs.